How is everyone doing? I hope you’re enjoying the sunshine and having some moments of quiet to take it all in. I can’t quite believe we are reaching the end of July. Alhamdulillah. I started my current job and ‘proper’ / full time graduate job in July 2020 when so much was still uncertain and having completed a major milestone of completing University, (albeit, in my room). I thought I would share some of my thoughts since then, with you all. I’m not sure if I’m writing this to convince or remind myself of some things, but what I think now about work and a career has changed so much in this past year. These are, of course, things I am still thinking through and in a few years, I think I will look back and laugh at myself, but, to record one’s thoughts as they are forming and happening in the moment, not quite like a photograph which captures the moment that has already happened, (capturing the present means to capture the unfinished, almost messy and moving nature of it). There is a novelty in that, a kind of fragile, frail and naïve beauty to it that I think I’ll appreciate in years to come.
I would say I’m quite obsessive or that, I can easily become obsessive, I quite enjoy it, being completely immersed in something comes naturally. For as long as I can remember, I had thought that because we spend so much of our time at work and that, in the way studying was all consuming, work will be too. I have since realised that there is so much I want to do outside of work, outside of the hours of 9-5 (or my current 8-4) and that there is a difference in the quality of that time vs the quantity of time spent at work. I am genuinely interested in productivity and my best days have been those where I get a lot done at work and have ticks on my to do list and then I start the rest of my day – after work – feeling accomplished. (It feels strange and a bit nerdy admitting that I want this sense of getting things done and productivity from work.) I recoginsed that I had equated this to mean, that the work I do, must be impactful meaning, it must be giving, be purposeful, hence interning at charities and public sector facing roles prior to graduating. My current role too, has felt like it is the work I should do, but I have started to think, if work is where I spend most of my time, how can I get the most out of it – how can I seek development, to make my existence more purposeful and mark on this earth, more impactful and farther reaching? I think my sense of what impact is has broadened, beyond my self and my current scope of time. And another niggling thought: am I doing the work that is seemingly impactful and ‘good’ because it feels good? In the way that being charitable feels good, working with students who look up to you and your university degree, feels good. Working in a smaller organisation where you are at some points, a jack of all trades and doing more than your initial job description, again, feels good and is an accomplishment.
In the past year, I have also found myself having to justify or feeling like I should explain why I don’t want a ‘high flying, demanding career’ or having to confirm, that, my current job is just that, for the current moment, temporary (Although, I have daily thoughts about what job could be better than this?). But everything, more and more, feels quite temporary, like moments, events, phases and timelines to pass through, to learn from and experience.
There is also a part of me that no longer enjoys thinking so long term, there are, of course, some long term roles and jobs in my life that are fixed – be that as a writer, a sister, a nurturer, a seeker; a student always. But beyond that, I have found myself rejecting titles and categorisation; I am far more interested in the experience and lessons the role teaches me.
Some thoughts | thoughts I will probably have for years to come
- Should I be more ambitious, am I ambitious enough? –> What does ambition look like, in this phase of life?
- Am I lazy or do I really not want a demanding career? –> I want to be a writer, for which the trajectory looks different
- Will I be the person who hops around from job to job? –> So, what if I am, it is my trajectory after all and a career is crafted, it is told, constructed and a job is a job, it is not who I am here, it is not all that I do
- I feel indebted to the education system, to teachers –- will anything, ever, feel like just a job for me
(prompted by a wonderful friend, NA): What does my heart want? To be in Istanbul, on a ferry to Uskudar for dinner after a long day of writing and sipping tea in one of the café’s along the Bosporus.
- What I want will change and I think that is positive. / Here is to crafting + writing.
Some things I have learnt (mostly, about myself)
Seek + nurture mentorship
I was never too keen on sharing news with others – from good news to potential projects. However, as I think back to the many challenging situations both professionally and personally this past year, I have really valued seeking advice from the right people and utilising their mentorship and wisdom. Sharing has meant seeking their advise.
Say no + ‘fake it till you make it’
I found myself oscillating between this mode of: wanting to be/ being a ‘nice’ new person at work who says yes to everything and one who is easy going or tries to be. I struggled with feeling like I knew what I was doing at all – I guess I was figuring it out, who am I at work and what tone do I want to set? (I don’t expect to be completely myself at work – I know there is code switching involved and I think it’s quite dishonest to say I am completely myself at work but I think that is another conversation.) Up until recently, I have thought it to be inauthentic when I’ve heard the advice: ‘fake it till you make it’. Maybe there was a superiority complex present here and also the desire to accomplish those things first, to tick the box first without having to fake it – but I think fake it till you make it is a great attitude at work. I think at work, you don’t need to be so honest about your vulnerabilities and I have learnt to say no, much more. It’s actually great accountability.
Everyone is a bit dishevelled.
Some are better at hiding it and others, (most), will miss a meeting or forget to send over those notes. ‘Qualified’ has so many meanings and I will ask more of myself than anyone else has, but I will carry myself with the intention of Ihsaan. And there is a difference between seeking and aspiring for Ihsaan and unachievable / torturous standards.
I started to think about the long-term vision a role has and the day to day, details of the role. What is my strategy? Did I think I could be without strategy and just do good work?
I think I associated burnout mostly with University, I didn’t think, post Cambridge, I’d experience much more intensity but the feeling of Burnout is so layered. I have definitely experienced Burnout in an emotional sense, from things piling up in my personal life and just having to be on the go, despite it all, never taking a complete moment outside of the routines, work and obligations. I have also had intense periods at work that have led to Burnout. These are the questions I ask myself now:
- What are the places, people and things that nourish me — how can I lean on them when I feel burnt out?
- How do I maintain stamina?
- How can I make a toolkit for the moments of burn out and exhaustion that come in phases and often, creep up on you?
I’ve begun asking myself (prompted by a great friend): what are all the things missing? What have I skipped out on? Does the burnout coincide with the month I decided to leave the gym, stop reading and forget my cup of tea before bed?
On Imposter syndrome
I feel like I have spoken about this too much, perhaps I have somewhat, even subconsciously spoken it into existence? Perhaps I have expected it? I don’t want to diminish the endless moments when I do feel it but I have also found myself, telling myself, to get a grip. I realised that the anxiety I felt, the worry that I was not good enough / qualified enough, was not specific to the space or to me being (feeling) qualified or skilled enough. It was always me, my tendency to worry, my reactions. I guess I realised that my current self, who looks back, at all that I did, all that I saw, read and wrote, thought about, wishes I didn’t doubt myself so much. The current self-wishes I celebrated the little and big moments much more. That I didn’t torture myself so much, (although unknowingly). That I knew, I, and my things, big and small, were worthy of celebrating. That I recognised the goodness, the grace that Allah had gifted me with, the grace that Allah had given me. I think they could have been moments of strength for me to remind myself of in the mundane everyday motions of life. I wish I could go back and freeze the moment for a little while, capture it, capture the feeling and pat myself on the back.
I would go back and tell my graduate self who is yet to discover what this year would bring, the moments of magic in the everyday, the exhaustion of a 9-5 and oh, how, bank holidays are often the magic. That there would soon be, email etiquette to worry about, the marriage cv talk from mum and 16-year olds asking you, unprovoked, at 10am in the morning, ‘Ms, are you married?’ ‘Ms, are you religious?’. And just about, the joy of being around students with such inquisitive minds, so much talent, such witty words and funny thoughts. About, students who, write hilarious emails and lovely cards, and how it has felt like a true gift, making everything so much lighter and better. I would tell my graduate self that she did a great job. A great job at preparing for this part of life; that she has Allah, she has vision, some incredible mentors, friends and family who are so willing to support and guide her, that there are people dotted around in the corners of the world that are great listeners. People who want more for her than she can imagine, that dream for her as she has dreamed for herself, that include her in their vision and dreams, that, there are, so many wandering souls who think of her and who will meet her halfway. That, there are, people to be met and conversations to be had that will be transformational. That there are words that will carry her, and the duas and hopes of the people who want so much for her. That so much will be unexpected, and, so much, will not go her way, but with time, these moments will make sense, and she will pick herself up again, and again,
That there is so much to explore, and there will be so many moments of magic, love and light, escapism and pinch me moments. So many more moments akin to the warmth of sunlight creeping up on you when you least expect it and to the smell of sugar doughnuts by the sea as the sun is setting. That, you will catch yourself, many times, living in a moment you have prayed about.
All my love and prayers,